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Friday, May 2, 2014

PM Erdoğan planning prayers with Islamic leaders in Hagia Sophia


Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is planning to perform prayers at Istanbul’s historic Hagia Sophia, along with the leaders of other Islamic countries, according to daily Radikal.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is reportedly considering organizing a special prayer in Istanbul’s most illustrious architectural setting ahead of the upcoming presidential elections next August. The move will come amid a wider “reform package” that will contain important steps on several thorny issues, from the opening of the Greek Orthodox Halki Seminary to giving legal status to Alevi cemevis as official places of worship.

The prayer at Hagia Sophia may be organized as part of the events held for the week marking Istanbul’s conquest by the Ottomans late May, according to Radikal. The government, however, remains concerned over the possible reactions that such an event could spark.

Previously, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç publically expressed his hope to see the Hagia Sophia, currently a museum, be converted into a mosque at some point in the future day. The suggestion was strongly condemned by Greece, which described it as an “insult to the religious sensibilities of millions of Christians.”

Only the PM’s instruction needed for Halki

However, in a possible bid to balance potential controversy, the reform package prepared by the government may also include steps regarding the historic Halki Seminary.

Ankara has reportedly completed is preparations for ensuring the reopening of the Greek Orthodox Seminary of Halki, located on Istanbul’s Heybeliada island.

The government had previously set two preconditions for opening the seminary, calling on Greece to cease appointing state muftis and also to build a mosque in Athens. However, only Erdoğan’s instruction is now said to be needed for the reopening of Halki.

The reforms will also contain a change of approach on cemevis to respond to one of the most significant demands of the Alevis. The government may introduce a debate on legally recognizing Cemevis as worship places, before the anniversary of the Gezi protests in late May.

According to the Radikal report, the AKP also foresees adopting a softer stance over last year’s Gezi protests, “enhancing dialogue” with protest figures “who criticized the government but also reacted against vandalism.”

The government is also said to be gearing up the normalization process with Israel after the deal on compensation over the Marmara raid, with the reassignment of ambassadors from both countries.

The fresh “reform package” comes as increasing numbers of AKP figures voice their opinion that Erdoğan would be the most suitable candidate for presidency, rather than Abdullah Gül, in the August elections.



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